“The Seagull” at ACT produced by The Seagull Project

After nine months of working together to unravel the complexities and tease out the riches of the first of Chekhov’s four great plays, the actors who formed The Seagull Project have brought to the stage a theatre piece directed by John Langs that confounds and astounds. It confounds because of the ambiguities within the play itself. It astounds because of the beauty of the production with its nuanced performances.

At a lakeside country home in late 19h Century Russia, tortured characters play out their bitter, unfulfilled lives. For some love is unrequited. For some ambition is unrealized. For all, life, though difficult, just goes on…until they or natural forces end it.

There are moments of humor within the play, and Chekhov has called this a comedy. But he probably meant that farce is needed to cope with the tragedy of life. After all, “Wanting is one continuous torture.”

Julie Briskman as the aging, but still imperious, actress Arkadina wants continued adoration from audiences and her lover. Haughty, self centered, positively cruel to her son, she’s at that life-stage where women begin losing their allure. Her son Konstantin (played by the tortured Brandon J. Simmons) seeks respect as a writer and the affections of the young and beautiful Nina. Nina (Alexandra Tavares) longs to be an actress, not a little country girl, and she’s smitten with Trigorin, not Konstantin. Trigorin (the suave John Bogar), a successful writer, is the consort of Arkadina, but he’s not at all averse to a little side activity with Nina. Masha (Hannah Victoria Franklin), the daughter of the estate manager is in love with Konstantin, but settles for an unhappy marriage with the hapless schoolteacher.

And so it goes. No one has what he or she wants, no one but the audience. We get to see their angst play out on Jennifer Zeyl’s evocative set where minimal props on bleached wood planking conjure up both interior and exterior scenes. And we get to think about the nature of human existence as the play builds to its surprising yet inevitable climax.

This is powerful theatre. It’s theatre for the thinking person. You may well leave with more questions than you had when you walked in. But isn’t that one of the things good drama is supposed to do?

Through Feb. 10 at ACT, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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